America's Military Recruiting Shortfall is Our Problem, Too

The U.S. Military is raising the maximum recruiting age from 34 to 39 and pay is being doubled to $40,000. The reason: Iraq has made finding new soldiers difficult. According to this article from Sweden's Göteborgs Posten, questions are mounting concerning what America’s recruiting problem means for the other countries participating in the 'War on Terror,' and whether Swedish troops are being asked to perform duties the Swedish people never agreed to.

By Britt-Marie Mattsson   

Translated By Carl Bergquist

January 19, 2006

Original Article (Swedish)

        U.S. Recruiting Posters from the Past (above and below)

Last year's recruitment target for the U.S. Military was 80,000 soldiers, but at year's end only 73,000 had joined. And now a new age category is being tempted with money. The earlier maximum age of 34 for new recruits is being raised by five years to 39. Salaries are being doubled from $20,000 to $40,000.

This change in regulations underscores the difficulties that the U.S. is having with recruiting. The war in Iraq has made it difficult to convince young people to pursue military life. In addition, the Afghanistan operation has also made youth more cautious. The risks of being killed or injured are high. Opposition is growing. Commissions and hearings in Congress indicate that there may be legal consequences for several people who, on the basis of erroneous information, were misleading on the issue of weapons of mass destruction.

A low-key withdrawal of American solders from Afghanistan is already taking place, and these are being replaced by soldiers from other countries.


This is where Sweden comes into the picture. Two Swedish soldiers were recently killed, and one injured, by a roadside bomb (in Mazar al Sharif, Northern Afghanistan). It is unclear what tasks the Swedes were carrying out. Initially, the Swedish High Command refused to release their names due to the sensitive nature of the mission, and information on which hospital they were being treated in was then classified. Swedish Defense Minister Leni Björklund has also refused to discuss the Swedes' specific assignments.

The Swedish Parliament, the Riksdagen, has decided to expand the size of the Swedish contingent just as the U.S. is withdrawing its personnel. Swedish soldiers will be under the command of the U.S.-dominated NATO, despite the fact that Sweden is not a member of the Western military alliance.

Leni Björklund has also declared that during upcoming military exercises in Boden (northern Sweden), the Swedish military will be training with the Russian military. According to her, this is because they will undertake joint operations in the future, whose nature she will not disclose.


Taken separately, the latest information coming out of the U.S. and Sweden does not amount to much. However, used as pieces of a larger puzzle, a different picture emerges. The U.S. neither wants nor is it able to make a long-term commitment of troops to Afghanistan, and so it needs replacements. Sweden is obliging, and thus raising its own troop levels. But who has set the parameters? How has Parliament dealt with this issue? Why is the mission kept under such tight wraps that not even the names of the soldiers - everyone in their hometowns knows they were in Afghanistan - can be revealed even after they have been attacked?


It is clear that the U.S. has both declared the "'War on Terror"' and set the guidelines on how to fight it. Does the increased Swedish military presence in Afghanistan mean that Sweden is now participating with its own troops in this war? Several countries that were previously in Iraq and Afghanistan have now been withdrawn.

The exercise up in Boden has inadvertently revealed that Sweden is going to take part in joint operations with Russia. Has this been approved by Parliament? Or has the decision been made in the (Parliamentary) Defense Committee, thus eliminating the transparency needed so the general public can understand what this means?

The American government is being accused of "'tricking"' youth into joining the military. So while the Bush Administration secretly made plans for the invasion of Iraq, the young people had no idea that this was part of the equation. The debate about betrayal has only just begun in the U.S., and relatives are directly accusing the President of sacrificing their sons and daughters in an illegitimate war.

Defense Minister Leni Björklund

Defense Minister Leni Björklund points out that casualties cannot be ruled out when Swedish soldiers are sent off to Afghanistan. But she refuses to say what they are going to be doing there.

The U.S. has an all-volunteer professional military, but Sweden still has universal male conscription. Voluntarism is predicated on the openness and honesty of those doing the recruiting. Conscription compels youth into joining the military. This necessitates an even higher degree of truth-telling and specificity from the government.

Despite severe problems with recruitment, the U.S. does not want other countries to assume control in Afghanistan or Iraq. America will stay in charge, but it is happy to delegate certain secondary tasks. And this is where Sweden comes into the picture, as a part of missions that cannot stand public scrutiny.

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